Laridian and the Better Business Bureau

About a year and a half ago we let our Better Business Bureau (BBB) membership expire. We had been members since 2000, and were some of the earliest members of their “BBBOnline” program that sought to separate the better businesses from the scams that are so much a part of online life. At the time we joined, we paid $310 to join the BBB itself and another $225 for the BBBOnline program.

From the beginning, it was clear that the BBB was just a consumer con-job. From the fact that it has absolutely no power nor willingness to involve itself in resolving disputes, to the minimal requirements it places on its members, to the shoddy paper membership certificate it sends you to “display proudly”, the BBB is little more than an organization that shakes down businesses for $350+/year with vague offers of increased credibility while offering those businesses and the consumers whose interests it claims to represent little in return.

Now, ABC News is reporting here and here that the BBB is little more than a pay-to-play scam, where the terrorist organization Hamas received an A-minus rating, while Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants get F’s. The difference? Hamas (or at least, a blogger claiming to be Hamas) pays their dues. Wolfgang Puck does not.

I went back through my records and found three complaints in the ten years or so we were members. One complaint was from a customer who had purchased from us twice. The second time he claimed to be a new customer and as a result his new purchases ended up in a separate download account from his old purchases. However, when he logged in to download, he logged into the old account rather than following the login instructions in the confirmation email we sent him. This kind of thing happens fairly regularly, of course, and we’re always able to handle it through tech support. This customer, however, contacted the BBB before contacting us. Once he contacted us, of course, we resolved his problem instantly like we always do.

The second complaint was from a customer who had purchased a Bible but not the PocketBible program that was required in order to view the Bible. Again, instead of contacting us when he couldn’t view his Bible, he contacted BBB and filed a complaint. By the time we received notice of the complaint several days later, he had contacted tech support and the problem was solved within hours — all before we even received his BBB complaint.

Complaint number three was similar to the first. Customer orders a Bible but no reader. We tell him to buy the reader, which he does, but now claims the Bible is not on his download page. We log into the customer’s account, and there it is. We write back and tell him “it’s the third one from the top” and he files a complaint with the BBB. Again, problems like this happen from time to time, but we’re always able to solve them without any help from the BBB.

Unfortunately, when you look at our BBB status report, all it will tell you is that we’ve had complaints. It doesn’t say that they were all from customers who technically didn’t have a claim in the first place. It just says they were “resolved”. (Since we haven’t had any complaints in the last three years, our current report will say “no complaints”.)

My one big experience as a consumer using the Better Business Bureau was a complaint against a competitor who was advertising their software as “the only true PDA Bible study software”. I felt this claim was demonstrably false, since there were dozens of PDA Bible study programs available at the time. BBB is very particular about advertising claims. You can’t say things like “discounts up to 50% off” or even “lowest prices in town” (the latter is OK only if you can exhaustively demonstrate that it’s true). So I felt the claim that this company had the “only” Bible software was simply false, and since they were BBB members, the BBB should hold them responsible for their clearly false advertising.

The BBB forwarded my complaint to the company, and the company replied that their software contained Greek and Hebrew lexicons, and therefore was the only true Bible study software for PDAs. I wrote back with a list of six Bible programs that included Greek and Hebrew lexicons for the same mobile platforms as this competitor supported. That was the end of the discussion. The BBB didn’t do anything against the company even after an advertising review. The whole issue was simply dropped.

In 2004 we did a customer survey. We selected several hundred people who had purchased within the last week or two and presented them with a list of certifications like “Better Business Bureau”, “BizRate”, “Verisign”, “Verified by Visa”, “Good Housekeeping”, etc. We asked how important each of these were, and if any of them were instrumental in their decision to purchase from us. Here are the top four, in order from most important to least important:

  1. Verisign
  2. Verified by Visa
  3. TrustE
  4. BBB Online

Ironically, at the time, neither the Verisign nor Verified by Visa logos appeared on our site yet customers told us the appearance of those logos is what changed their mind about ordering products from us. (The exact question was: “I was uncertain about ordering from Laridian until I saw this certification.”) More importantly, these imaginary logos were more important (by a factor of almost 2) than the BBB certification that was actually on the site!

So a year and a half ago it seemed abundantly clear that (1) very few people were actually making use of BBB; (2) those who did make use of it were actually making baseless claims that were solved by tech support without help from BBB; (3) all claims, regardless of how specious, were counted against us regardless of their resolution; and (4) customers weren’t relying nearly as much on the BBB certification logo as they were on certifications which they only imagined seeing on our site. We explained all this to our BBB rep and told them we’d be willing to sign up for another year for $30 instead of $365. (We figured it might result in one or two more sales over the course of a year, so $30 seemed more than fair.) They declined our generous offer so we let our membership expire.

We hesitated to mention publicly that we had dropped our BBB membership because we were afraid of what that might imply. But now that the facts about the BBB have finally come to light, I think it’s safe to let you know that despite our current “A” rating and being complaint-free for the last three years, we are no longer paying protection money to this particular gang.

11 Replies to “Laridian and the Better Business Bureau”

  1. I think there was a time (or perhaps an age) where BBB was viable; and perhaps it still is for larger business segments. But in this “age” the need for a large central repository for complaints is waining. The internet allows anyone with a computer to setup a facebook, blog or other site to collect complaints. If their cause is legit and effects many people it will catch on. If it isnt legit; it will as quickly fade away.

    So; having or not having a BBB logo on your site has no affect on my doing business with you. The quality of your product and support is easily discernible by mere mortals.

  2. I agree that the BBB is a vestige of the last century. It’s too easy in 2010 to search the Web and find all the information you need about a company before you purchase. And it’s pretty obvious when you visit a site like ours and see active interaction between customers and company management, readily available tech support, and a long history of product development that you’re probably going to be OK.

    I should post a picture of our “membership plaque”. Back in 2000 our original membership package included a laser-printed “certificate of good standing” behind clear plastic on a wood board. The next year we got a new piece of paper and instructions to slide it under the plastic to replace the old one. Lately the certificates have been printed on ink jet printers and have low resolution and inconsistent color. Nothing like sending off a $365 check and getting a badly printed certificate with instructions on how to disassemble your 99-cent plaque (which you’ve long ago misplaced) to insert the new certificate. 🙂

  3. Good for you! I didn’t even realize you had a BBB membership. I bought from you because you were highly recommended by other mobile users and you had a great feature list.

    Normally, the louder a business touts it’s BBB membership, the faster I start to run from them. From my experience, companies that make a big deal out of a BBB affiliation tend to be high pressure sales outfits. I’m sure that’s not true across the board, but that’s been my experience.

    I’d be far more impressed by a business presenting me a Consumer Reports rating than a BBB logo. The BBB membership doesn’t mean I’ll be provided with value or good service.

  4. Just two observations- ABC was after the BBB more because of politics than anything else. However, I do agree that the BBB serves little purpose these days (of course, I feel that unions have lost their purpose mostly too).

  5. BBB? Who’s that?
    Even when the BBB was ‘more’ popular, it’s not like people actualy called them up before doing business with someone. It’s always been a, “wow, that was bad, I should tell the BBB. Oh- What do you know, had I contacted the BBB before hand (or read any other third party reviews) I would have expected this bad interaction.”
    Which will disapear first, the Yellow Pages or the BBB?

  6. I have been one of your loyal customers going back 10+ years. I Love Your software, and promote it to all my fellow friends. That is better than anything the BBB can do for you! You clearly show wisdom in your decision and I am proud to be a loyal fan and consumer of Laridian. Keep up the great work and may God continue to guide and Bless your business.
    Respectfully and Greatful!

  7. Way to go about leaving BBB behind. It’s a vestige of the past as said above. I’ll always buy your products and can’t wait for Android PocketBible.

  8. Good for you! I once made a complaint through the BBB and came to the same conclusion as you. They have no power nor desire to do anything tangible to help. I also went researching some companies and again came to the same conclusion as you – if a company is a member it has a great “grade” from them, and if not it has a poor “grade”. I will not base my judgement of a company on it’s willingness to pay a mobster.

    One of the most powerful tools online is simply other customer reviews. By comparing the complaints with the lauds it’s generally pretty easy to figure out how good the product is. Certainly customer reviews played a large part in my choosing PocketBible several years ago, and I have never regretted the choice.

  9. Like Carol, I once made a legitimate complaint to the BBB and discovered they are less potent than a toothless recording of a barking dog. Membership therein now means nothing to me and the many to whom I’ve communicated my story via word-of-mouth. That same word of mouth has led many of my friends to purchase from Laridian based on my long years as a Laridian customer and my experience with Parsons before that, both as customer and beta tester of several products. So have no fears, dropping BBB will have negligible impact. (But do keep your eye on HP’s acquisition of webOS – just a little free tip there! )

    1. The BBB actually called last week to try to get us to join. They didn’t know we had previously been members. As she went through her spiel, I gave her each of my objections from this article. She eventually said, “I have other things I need to do so I need to move on.” I reminded her that it was she who called me, and it was me that had other things to do, but that I was taking time out to honestly evaluate our decision to drop the BBB. She eventually hung up on me mid-sentence, so of course I called the Better Business Bureau. 🙂 The person I talked to there wasn’t very interested in my complaint and admitted that their reputation had really suffered lately, citing the articles that I mentioned in my blog post.

  10. I did not know you even had BBB, I actually became a customer by accident and have enjoyed your software ever since. Starting with PalmOS, then adding Windows, then switching to Windows Mobile and as soon as you release the Android version I will switch to that version. I even got my Sister in Law a copy of the software for her Palm phone.

    P.S. I keep telling my Mobile Windos phone its days are numbered, it seems to behave better that way.

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